Top 15 Prospects: Boston Red Sox by Marc Hulet December 23, 2011 The Boston Red Sox top prospects list has undergone an upheaval over last season’s like no other. Only one player in the Top 10 (Ryan Lavarnway) appeared on the list a year ago, which accounts for an unprecedented amount of movement. The list lost just one prospect to graduation (Josh Reddick) while the other eight players either lost value or were surpassed by more promising talent. The good news for the system is that it still has a fair bit of depth and some of the players who stumbled in 2011 could rebuild their prospect value in ’12. 1. Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS BORN: Dec. 1, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off SCOUTING REPORT: Given his young age, Bogaerts’ season was a massive success. He displayed an advanced approach that should lead to him hitting for average down the line and he has good bat speed, which generates above-average power. Defensively he plays a solid shortstop but he’s expected to slow down and shift over to third base before he reaches the Majors. An interesting side note: Bogaerts’ twin Jair Bogaert spent 2011 playing for Boston Dominican Summer League team (He hit .288 in 47 games). YEAR IN REVIEW: Bogaerts played the 2011 season in low-A ball at the age of 18 – although he spent the first half of the year in extended spring training. He showed uncanny power for his age with an ISO rate of .249, as well as impressive patience (8.4 BB%). He still has rough edges in his game and struggles with breaking balls, which helped lead to a strikeout rate of 24%. YEAR AHEAD: The infielder could spend 2012 in high-A ball as a teenager, if Boston wants to continue to be aggressive with him. He’ll look to curb his strikeouts while ironing out the rough edges in his game. If he keeps up this pace Bogaerts could be playing in the Majors by the time he’s 21 years old. CAREER OUTLOOK: Bogaerts has the potential to develop into a middle-of-the-order threat with 30+ home runs a possibility. He should remain on the left side of the infield but it probably won’t be at shortstop. The Aruba native will be a fun prospect to watch in 2012 and I imagine Boston considers him virtually untouchable. 2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B BORN: Sept. 9, 1988 EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons ACQUIRED: 2007 5th round, Texas HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off SCOUTING REPORT: Middlebrook entered 2011 as a sleeper and he exited the season as a top prospect. He began his pro career a little behind the eight ball because he was such a good pitcher in high school, as well as a talented football player. Now that he’s had time to acclimatize himself, Middlebrooks shows the ability to hit for both average and power, although his pitch selection and overall aggressiveness need work. Defensively, he’s a good fielder and has a strong arm. YEAR IN REVIEW: The third baseman spent the year in double-A and hit .302 while also showing increased power with an ISO rate of .218. On the downside, his strikeouts remained high (24%) and his walk rate tied his career low mark of 5.3%. After slugging 23 home runs during the regular season he added four more in the Arizona Fall League (56 at-bats), although he hit just .250 and again struggled with Ks. YEAR AHEAD: Middlebrooks received a brief taste – 56 at-bats – of triple-A in 2011 and he’ll return there in 2012. He could spend the entire year there with an eye on replacing the aging Kevin Youkilis for the ’13 season. CAREER OUTLOOK: The former fifth-round pick looks like he’ll develop into at least an average offensive third baseman. If he can trim his strikeouts and maintain the increased power output then he has a chance to be an all-star at the hot corner. 3. Garin Cecchini, 3B BORN: April 20, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2010 4th round, Louisiana HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off SCOUTING REPORT: If you consider that Xander Bogaerts is likely headed for the hot corner down the road, Boston’s Top 3 prospects are all future third basemen. Cecchini displays an advanced approach for his age and projects to hit for both average and power. He also shows a solid defensive game at third. He likely would have been a first rounder in ’10 if he had not blown out his knee in high school, requiring major surgery. Cecchini’s younger brother Gavin Cecchini, a prep shortstop, could be a first round draft pick in 2012. YEAR IN REVIEW: Playing against older competition in the New York Penn League, Cecchini more than held his own in 2011. He hit .298 and displayed gap power that resulted in 12 doubles and three homers in just 114 at-bats. He also walked just shy of 13% of the time – and struck out only 14% of the time. YEAR AHEAD: Cecchini will most certainly move up to low-A in 2012 and could hit his way to high-A by mid-season. There is no reason for the organization to put any undue pressure on him , though, with fellow third base prospect Will Middlebrooks at triple-A. CAREER OUTLOOK: When all is said and done, Cecchini could end up as a better third baseman than Middlebrooks, although both have considerable talent. The younger prospect still has a long way to climb, though, despite his impressive start to his pro career. 4. Blake Swihart, C BORN: April 3, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (26th overall), New Mexico HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA SCOUTING REPORT: Signed away from the University of Texas for $2.5 million, Swihart is a promising offensive catcher in the Wil Myers mold. Like the top Royals prospect, this New Mexico native could move much more quickly through the system if he were to be moved to another position. Swihart shows promise behind the plate, thanks to his athleticism, but he’s only been catching for a few years – and rarely on a full-time basis. He’s a switch-hitter that shows above-average power and even the potential to hit for average. YEAR IN REVIEW: Swihart received just six Rookie ball at-bats after signing and failed to record his first pro hit. YEAR AHEAD: The catcher will likely stick in extended spring training to work on both his defense and his offense. Like catching, he’s fairly new to switch-hitting. If he remains behind the dish, Swihart will probably need four to five seasons in the minors. CAREER OUTLOOK: Swihart has the potential to develop into an all-star catcher. He’ll obviously lose a little bit of value if he moves to third base or right field but his bat has a chance to be special. With no clear cut ‘catcher of the future’ in the system, Boston will be patient. 5. Matt Barnes, RHP BORN: June 17, 1990 EXPERIENCE: College ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (19th overall), U of Connecticut 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA SCOUTING REPORT: There was some talk that Barnes could potentially be popped in the Top 10 during the 2011 draft so Boston was no doubt happy to land the Connecticut native with the 19th overall selection. The right-hander has a good pitcher’s frame with room to fill out even more. His fastball currently ranges from 91-97 mph and he also possesses a curveball, cutter and changeup. YEAR IN REVIEW: Barnes did not pitch after signing. He had an outstanding junior year of college and pitched 116.2 innings, giving up just 71 hits and four home runs. His ERA dropped significantly over the past three seasons from 5.43 to 3.92 to 1.70. YEAR AHEAD: Even though he has yet to pitch in a pro game, Barnes has shown enough to potential to begin 2012 in high-A ball. If his secondary stuff continues to develop he could reach the Majors within two to three years. CAREER OUTLOOK: Barnes has the necessary ingredients to be a No. 2 or 3 starter at the Major League level. Once he firms up one of his secondary pitches into a plus pitch – most likely his curveball – he could really take off. 6. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP BORN: Sept. 9, 1989 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, Louisiana State U 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off SCOUTING REPORT: Ranaudo’s 2011 performance received mixed reviews. His numbers were solid but scouts were less enamored with him than expected. The right-hander struggled with injuries in college – including a stress fracture in his throwing elbow – and his stuff was not as good in his first pro season as it was in college. When he’s going well, Ranaudo throws 90-95 mph with a plus curveball and changeup. He fought his mechanics and command in his first pro season. YEAR IN REVIEW: The right-hander began the year in low-A ball but was moved up to high-A after just 46 innings. Ranaudo pitched 81 innings at the senior level but he allowed two more hits per nine innings and his strikeout rate dropped from 9.78 to 7.44 K/9. YEAR AHEAD: Ranaudo did not exactly dominate high-A ball but his FIP was decent at 3.95 (4.33 ERA) so he will probably open 2012 in double-A. He could spend the entire season there unless he suddenly becomes more consistent and his pitches become more crisp. CAREER OUTLOOK: Even if he doesn’t become the No. 2 pitcher that some people predict, Ranaudo has the strong frame necessary to become a workhorse in the rotation as a No. 3 or 4 pitcher – assuming his elbow holds up. My gut feeling is that he’ll have a good – but not great – career in Boston. 7. Jackie Bradley, OF BORN: April 19, 1990 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 supplemental 1st round, South Carolina 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA SCOUTING REPORT: With four selections before the second round during the 2011 draft, the Boston Red Sox organization acquired a lot of exciting talent and Bradley could end up being a true steal as the 40th overall pick. He slid after struggling on offense early in the college season and then he had wrist surgery. The South Carolina native is a plus defender with a plus arm. Although he’s struggled with his consistency as a hitter, Bradley has good bat speed and did not strike out much in his college career. YEAR IN REVIEW: Bradley was healthy enough to play 10 pro games after signing with Boston, topping out at low-A Greenville. After hitting .368/.473/.587 in his sophomore season, the outfielder slumped to .247/.346/.432 in his junior year. YEAR AHEAD: Bradley will probably open 2012 in low-A ball while working on becoming more consistent with the bat. If he can stay within himself and acknowledge his own strengths and weaknesses then he could see a lot of success and even reach high-A at some point in the year. Bradley should focus on the skills necessary to be a two-hole hitter. CAREER OUTLOOK: At worst, Bradley should be an outstanding fourth outfielder or second-division starter. Because he brings so much to the table and has a lot of drive I fully expect him to get the most out of his abilities and improve significantly with the bat. 8. Ryan Lavarnway, C BORN: Aug. 7, 1987 EXPERIENCE: 4 seas0ns ACQUIRED: 2008 6th round, Yale University 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th SCOUTING REPORT: Lavarnway doesn’t have quite the offensive potential that New York’s Jesus Montero does but he’s in a similar situation as an offensive-minded catcher who may or may not be able to stick at the position. He’s shown enough defensively, though, to at least provide back-up duties at the position while also playing first base or acting as the DH. You can’t argue with Lavarnway’s offense. He hits for a solid average and has above-average power all over the field. He is not your typical grip-and-rip power hitter and is a smart baseball player (He’s a Yale Alum). YEAR IN REVIEW: The catcher slugged 34 home runs over three levels (AA, AAA, MLB) in 2011 and hit .290 at the minor league level. He showed a patient approach (12.1 BB% at AAA) and struck out at a reasonable (but not great) rate for a power hitter. Lavarnway threw out 37% of base stealers while squatting behind the plate in the minors. YEAR AHEAD: Lavarnway is probably ready for The Show but the return of DH David Ortiz could throw a wrench into the works. The catcher may have to bide his time at triple-A until an injury occurs to Ortiz or starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The club will want to carry a stronger defender as the back-up catcher, which is why veteran Kelly Shoppach was brought back. CAREER OUTLOOK: Lavarnway has the potential to be a better offensive player than Saltalamacchia but he may not be any better defensively. It’s possible that he could end up replacing Ortiz as the full-time DH in 2013 but, either way, he should be an above-average hitter with 20+ home run potential. 9. Henry Owens, LHP BORN: July 21, 1992 EXPERIENCE: Prep ACQUIRED: 2011 supplemental 1st round, California HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA SCOUTING REPORT: Owens is a tall (6’6”) left-hander that could possibly add velocity as he matures but he currently pitches in the 87-91 mph range, occasionally brushing the mid-90s when he reaches back for a little extra. With pro coaching, though, I expect him to explode and eventually work in the mid-90s on a consistent basis; he has a promising delivery and decent command for his age. Owens’ repertoire also includes a curveball, cutter and changeup. YEAR IN REVIEW: Owens did not pitch after signing. YEAR AHEAD: The southpaw will likely be assigned to Rookie ball after spending the first half of the season in extended spring training looking to get stronger and sharpen his secondary pitches. CAREER OUTLOOK: Owens’ future outlook hinges on the development of his fastball. If he can consistent work in the low-to-mid-90s than he should become at least a No. 3 starter. If he pitches more in the 87-91 mph range than he’s likely to be more of a No. 4-5 starter – unless he develops a couple of other plus pitches. Either way, he should be able to provide lots of innings. 10. Brandon Jacobs, OF BORN: Dec. 8, 1990 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 10th round, Georgia HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off SCOUTING REPORT: A $750,000 bonus helped sway Jacobs from playing college football at Auburn University. After three years the move is starting to look like a smart one. A raw baseball player when he entered pro ball, Jacobs began to breakout in 2011 and should continue to do so in ’12. He has very good power, thanks to his above-average bat speed and strong frame, and should hit for a decent average as long as he can avoid becoming too pull happy. Jacobs doesn’t have much speed and he has a below-average arm so he’s limited to left field. YEAR IN REVIEW: Jacobs hit .303 at low-A ball in 2011 but he was aided but an unsustainable BABIP of .381. Even so, he made strides with his stroke. His raw power continues to translate better into game situations and his ISO rose from .169 in ’10 to .201 in ’11. He slugged 32 doubles and 17 home runs in 442 at-bats. Jacobs still has work to do with breaking balls and he needs to tone down his two-strike approach; his strikeout rate sat at 24.5%. YEAR AHEAD: The former football player will move up to high-A in 2012. If he gets off to a fast start he could see time in double-A. The organization has decent outfield depth at the upper levels so there is no need to rush Jacobs. CAREER OUTLOOK: Jacobs has the potential to be an average to above-average offensive left fielder if he can maintain a decent batting average. He has 20-30 home run power, which is good because all his value is tied up in his bat. The biggest obstacle to Jacobs’ big league aspiration is Carl Crawford and his bloated contract, which is currently clogging the drain at the MLB level. The best scenario for Boston would be to have Crawford rebound, making Jacobs an attractive trade piece. THE NEXT FIVE 11. Jose Iglesias, SS: Iglesias, the organization’s No. 1 prospect last year, slid quite a bit over the past season – in part due to added depth and partially because he was over-matched at triple-A. His wOBA of .260 was unexpectedly poor, even for those he see him as a glove-first utility player at the MLB level. Despite his offensive struggles Iglesias still made his MLB debut in 2011 and he continued to display plus defensive skills. Unless he makes some adjustments, the Cuba native could be headed for a career similar to Cesar Izturis. 12. Bryce Brentz, OF: As a college player (and 22 years old), Brentz was a little too advanced for his initial assignment to low-A ball in 2011 and he beat up on the opposition – .359 average, .288 ISO- which led to a promotion to high-A. Brentz still hit well in Salem but showed more holes in his game, including his strikeout rate, which rose from 20% in low-A to 25%. He has the arm strength necessary to play right field. 13. Kolbrin Vitek, 3B/OF: Vitek continues to have potential but he made 28 errors at the hot corner in 2011 and hit just three home runs. His future at third base is murky at best. The club needs to move him to the outfield sooner rather than later, which will hopefully jump start his offense. With average-at-best power, Vitek needs to hit for a high average to have offensive value because he doesn’t run much, either, despite having above-average speed underway. 14. Junichi Tazawa, RHP: Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A Japanese pitcher comes to North America and gets hurt… Tazawa had Tommy John surgery in early 2010 but made it back to pitch late in ’11. He showed better stuff upon his return from surgery so there is hope that his ceiling will continue to rise. As a smaller right-hander he’s probably best suited for a bullpen role but he could develop into a set-up man with a four-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider, splitter, curve). 15. Miles Head, 3B: Signed away from the University of Georgia for $335,000, Head is a favorite of mine. A prep third baseman, lack of range and foot work forced him over to first base where he faces an uphill climb given the offensive expectations that come with the position. He dominated low-A in 2011, earning a mid-season promotion to high-A where he was good, but not great. SLEEPER ALERT: Jose Vinicio, SS: Iglesias is the better known shortstop in the system but Vinicio has potential as well. He played part of the ’11 season in rookie ball at the age of 17 after making his North American debut at 16. He’s clearly still growing and maturing as a baseball player but he hit .291 last year – and even showed glimpses of solid line-drive power. Vinicio is overly aggressive at the plate (3.6 BB%) but he has (raw) speed and the chance to become a special defender.